Mon, 11 Sep 2000

Poso refugees miss their homes

TENTENA, Central Sulawesi (JP): Both Christian and Muslim refugees in camps along the 205 km-overland route of Mangkutana- Pendolo-Tentena-Poso-coastal Poso speak with mixed feelings about their hometown, where hundreds have recently been killed.

Thousands of refugees in Tentena, a predominately Christian village in North Pamona subdistrict, some 55 km to the south of Poso, say they miss their homes in Poso.

"Over here we can't do anything, but back home we wouldn't have peace," Nancy Telao, 24, a young mother from Kayamanya Poso village, told The Jakarta Post at a refugee camp set up at the site of the planned Poso Lake Festival in Tentena.

Nancy said that since they fled their homes on May 27, 2000, they had been living in uncertainty, despite having food and medicines donated by the Church of Tentena Synod.

"We are dying to return home. When things have returned to normal, we will return to our home village. We have our plantations there. We do not want to depend only on donations for the rest of our lives here," said Nancy.

Darius Sangadi, 50, a resident of Tagolu village, expresses a similar sentiment. A father of two, he used to work as a farmer back home.

In the refugee camp, he earns nothing and cannot stop worrying about how his children will fare now that they have been forced to stop going to school.

He hopes the truce called for recently by four Sulawesi governors and the promise of security will soon become a reality and the refugees can go home.

Several other refugees interviewed in the Christian camp also say they want to return to their village, despite no longer having homes after they were razed to the ground in the attacks.

B. Mentore, 39, of Bategincu village, says his wife and children can no longer stand the refugee camp. "Our longing for Poso is so strong, stronger than anything else," he said.

Many among the thousands of Muslim refugees in South Sulawesi town of Mangkutana which borders Central Sulawesi, on the other hand, say they have no wish to return to Poso now that their houses and property has been burned down by Black Bat mobs.

Indah Suryani, 15, whose parents migrated to Poso from East Java, told the Post in Margolembo village, Mangkutana, that she did not want to return to Poso. "(There's no use returning to Poso. Everything has been destroyed. I hate Poso," she said.

For Indah, Poso is a nightmare she wishes she could cast away for good. "I am deeply sad whenever I remember Poso. The events there have traumatized us," she said.

Thirty-year-old Sri Hartati, a resident of Mayajaya Pendolo, says she is too traumatized to return to Poso, especially as there are reports that terror and arson are continuing.

Sri and her three small children, Ira, 9, Edi, 8, and Yudi, 5, prefer to remain in Puspeta camp in Wonorejo village, Mangkutana subdistrict. "We prefer to remain here despite the hardship. I would worry about my children's safety if we returned," she said.

Sri and her husband, Sumasono, 35, do not rule out ever going home. "We will wait until things have really returned to normal," said Sri, who is originally from Central Java.

Meanwhile, Mislam, the village head of Wonorejo, confirmed that many Muslim refugees sheltering there are reluctant to return to Poso.

"There's been little assistance for the refugees coming from the local administration. I don't know why they insist on staying here," he added.

Child refugees sheltering at the Al Muhajirien Margolembo Mangkutana Islamic boarding school also spoke of being too afraid to go home.

The principal of this boarding school, Imam Muhajir, said hundreds of children had been left in their care by refugees who had gone to their home villages in South Sulawesi. "There are about 100 children of refugees left here by their parents. Their educational backgrounds range from elementary school to senior high school," Imam said.

He says many of the parents are still afraid of taking their children back to their home villages in Poso. Instead, they enroll them at Al Muhajirien.

At Mangkutana refugee camp, 8-year-old Maryama says what he misses most is his father, whom he has not seen since he fled to Palu after being chased by the Christians.

"I miss my dad," said Maryama, in the embrace of his elder brother Eko Purnomo, 18. The two are now among countless children separated from their parents because of the sectarian conflict. (jup)